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Science in Service to the People

Posted on January 28, 2008

Margaret Beale Spencer (bio) explains how involvement in theoretical and applied science allows her to perform conscience-driven work.


I've also tried to understand these issues from a theoretical perspective. Why? I think theory is power. Theory that's inclusive, theory that's dynamic, theory that's linked to context, I think provides us with a very powerful heuristic device to understand behavior in context, that allows us to understand how to maximize the experiences of people who are having more difficulties without pathologizing them.

So I’ve also engaged in a lot of theorizing, so it's an iterative process. You do the basic science, you think about what it means theoretically, and you also for my case I'm very much engaged in the application. And that's why in terms of where I am right now, yes, I'm an academic, but I also head up a research center and also a research institute. And the research center is where we do the basic science because you have to stay fresh, you have to add on new questions and analyze data and determine what it helps us to understand more effectively.

And then you want to use the science in the service of people. To have a commitment to children and to their families and not have a vehicle for using that science directly in collaboration with others who directly service kids doesn't make much sense. So it's not enough just to do science and to publish. That is very self-aggrandizing, but what does it mean for others?

So it sounds like a lot. It sounds like a lot, but I'm just very fortunate. I feel as if my career allows me to feel good about who I am in terms of a conscience because I'm connected in that the science is not just for me in terms of being a scientist who’s known and whose work gets published and obtains funding.

But I'm able to use the research in service of other people. So our Institute does that; our Institute is the collaborative arm, that's the W.E.B. Du Bois Collective Research Institute. So through the Institute we collaborate with others who have direct, if you will, relationships with children or with families in terms of services. And it's a very, very rewarding process, and you also learn a lot.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher at the 2007 SRCD Biennial Meeting in Boston, MA.


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